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Heart Stopped Three Times, Woman has Life-Saving Surgery at St. Francis

Saved In the Nick of Time: Pulmonary Embolism at age 24

Britney graduated in 2015 with a health science degree from Columbus State University and started working at the ophthalmology office of Dr. Emanuel Wilkes. “I love it there, they’re all so nice.” She celebrated her 25th birthday in January.

With a new college degree and a new job, 24 year-old Britney Moton had an exciting life lined up as she was entering adulthood. But it all almost came to a sudden stop before Thanksgiving last year.

It all started the night of November 7 when Britney woke up in the middle of the night with her neck hurting. “I just thought it was a crick in my neck so I went to work as usual the next morning. Then the pain moved down my neck and into my ribs on my right side. When it was still bothering me at lunch time, I just thought I’d slept wrong. Plus muscle rub helped my neck pain some.”

At her mom Sandra’s urging, Britney saw a doctor after work and was diagnosed with a muscle strain and prescribed muscle relaxants and pain meds.

The pain continued to get worse and Britney didn’t go to work the next two days. On the 9th, her mom insisted they go to the ER.

This time, they went to Fort Benning’s Martin Army Community Hospital where Drs. Max Bursey and Cindy Parker were on duty. Coincidentally, Dr. Parker had treated Sandra earlier in the year for a blood clot in her leg which they discussed. 

And, just in time, it all clicked. Because the tendency to form blood clots can be inherited, the doctor immediately ordered a CT Scan of Britney’s lungs. The scan confirmed the life-threatening diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in her lungs.

“Never in my life would I have thought she’d come back and say I had blood clots in both lungs and they were big,” said Britney. “It was very scary. I knew what it meant, but not what could be done. They immediately sent me by ambulance to St. Francis.”

St. Francis Heart Hospital is the region’s cardiac hospital, providing a comprehensive range of cardiovascular services, including the only open-heart surgery program. In 2016, the hospital entered into an affiliation with the Emory Clinic’s Cardiothoracic Surgery Program, bringing Dr. Jacob Davtyan, Assistant Professor in the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and Emory Clinic physician, to the St. Francis Cardiovascular and Thoracic Institute. He is now Medical Director of St. Francis' cardiothoracic service.

Britney arrived in St. Francis’ Emergency Department in the nick of time. As she was being assessed by the staff, Britney’s heart stopped. "The last thing I can remember is becoming very hot, my blood pressure dropping, and my mom standing by my side holding my hand and praying. I also started throwing up and that was it. The next thing I remember is my dad standing by my side holding my hand … and that was after surgery was done.”

A lot happened in the meantime, including Britney’s heart stopping two more times and St. Francis' staff reviving her.

Sandra’s Experience

The Moton family is very close and Britney moved back home to recover.  “My mom is taking care of me; I wouldn’t have it any other way. When it happened, my dad was in Philadelphia as he travels with his job. He took the next flight home. My 14 year-old brother seemed to be the strongest and helped my parents so much.”  Dad Bryant agreed: “I think Bryce became a man that day,” he said. (Pictured L-R: Bryce, Sandra, Britney, and Bryant Moton.)

“The night that it all happened, we came to St. Francis and they took immediate action,” Britney’s mom Sandra explains, still emotional. “They resuscitated her after her heart stopped, then she got a clot-busting drug to try to shrink the huge clots, which they said had probably been there a while because of the size.”

Unfortunately, Sandra’s husband Bryant, Britney’s father, was out of town, travelling for work. “I’d had to call him to tell him she may not make it. But his twin brother came to the hospital that night as well as lots of other family and Pastor Joseph McKelton, our pastor from Central Missionary Baptist Church.”

Unbeknownst to the family, shortly after Britney had arrived in the ED with a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, Dr. Davtyan had already come back to the hospital in case he was needed.

“We got to go into Britney’s room as she was recovering from the procedure to inject the clot-busting drug," Sandra said. "She had a breathing tube in and her brother Bryce and I were holding each of her hands. I said ‘if you can hear me, squeeze my finger.’  She did and I was very excited. I felt like we were on the road to recovery and they were going to save my baby.”

“But the moment we walked out of her room, I heard a gurgling sound and her monitors started going down. She was coding again and nurses started rushing in. It was unreal. I was in the hallway praying at top of my lungs. Our family and our pastor were crying and praying. After a while, they brought her back around. It was so amazing. During that time, Dr. Davtyan came up behind me and tapped me on my shoulder and told me who he was and that he was a chest specialist and was going to do all he could to help my daughter. ‘I just said: please save my daughter’s life.’ Dr. Davtyan is such a God-sent angel.”

After additional CT scans were taken to see how effective the clot-busting drugs had been, it was confirmed that there were large clots remaining that Dr. Davtyan could remove surgically. He started surgery around 1 a.m., finishing around 5 a.m. “Around the clock, Dr. Davtyan had staff calling us to update us on the progress,” Sandra said. Throughout her surgery, “we prayed, sang, and cried.”

Dr. Davtyan was successful in removing the remaining embolisms. And, after a few days in the hospital, Britney went home on blood thinners to continue healing. Now, three months after the medical emergency that almost took her life, Britney is preparing to return to drive and return to work again. She will continue to take medication to help prevent future clots and she has a filter to help prevent spread of any further clots to her lungs.

“Staff from all over St. Francis seemed like an anointed team that God put together just for Britney,” Sandra said. “I know they had other patients but it seemed as if my child was the only patient there. They provided such nurturing care. They believe in a higher being. They go out of their way to help you. It was amazing and unbelievable.”

Britney agrees with her mom’s assessment. “I will never forget my nurses’ names; they were all so amazing. Almost unreal. I remember them praying for me. I know I wasn’t only patient on that floor but felt like I was. They were always asking if I needed anything. Each and every one had such a loving personality. They take their jobs seriously and know what they are doing and enjoy it. I felt like they enjoyed coming to work and doing their jobs. They are amazing.”

“We know that many people do not survive this and believe it’s truly a miracle that she survived,” Sandra said. “She has a divine purpose here; He may not have yet revealed it but we know she has a special purpose and a testimonial to share.”

One of the ways that Britney is already helping others because of what she’s been through is by sharing her story to educate others about risks and symptoms for thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

Britney and her entire family are being featured in a video that is debuting February 10 at the American Heart Association’s fund-raising gala Flavors of the Heart. That video will be posted to the St. Francis website after its debut.

"I'm thankful for Dr. Davtyan every day. I feel like he was sent down here for a reason,” Britney says. “I'm very thankful to be here today – I have a new way of looking at things. The saying, life is too short, that's true. I was able to get another chance at it. My faith has grown stronger and showed me that you can get through anything, literally."

About Dr. Davtyan

With more than 20 years of experience, Dr. Jacob Davtyan (pronounced Daf - tee - ahn) said there are a number of contributing factors to blood clots, especially in women.

For instance, women are often more susceptible to clots when they are pregnant, taking certain hormone treatments, using contraceptives, or when they have a genetic background for clots. Other factors, such as inactivity, recent surgery, smoking, obesity, and more can also leave one more likely to develop a clot.

"Britney was incredibly sick. She was in shock, without any chance of survival unless operated on," Dr. Davtyan said. "We were able to get to her just in time. I was absolutely elated to be able to save her life. It was incredibly fortuitous that we were able to do this surgery here."

Dr. Davtyan is Medical Director of St. Francis Heart Hospital's cardiothoracic surgery program. Learn more about Dr. Davtyan and the Emory affiliation here>>

The Emory Clinic affiliation expanded services at St. Francis and brings new cutting edge procedures and technologies to the hospital. "It brings the cardiothoracic capabilities of the hospital to a whole new level," Dr. Davtyan said, referencing not only cardiac services, but lung and chest specialties as well.

"Emory is a world leader in cardiothoracic services. It's our goal to bring knowledge and technology to the Columbus community and surrounding areas," he said. These new procedures help patients like Britney, who might have not survived a transfer to a larger hospital further away.

As for recognizing blood clots before they become dangerous, Dr. Davtyan said there are a number of steps that can be taken. "The signs and symptoms [of a blood clot] can be very sudden. "They can include a shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, fast breathing, an irregular heartbeat or becoming lightheaded. The sooner the patient gets to the emergency room, the better their chance at surviving, he said.

"This disease can be devastating. An informed public is its own best advocate."

What is Thrombosis?

Thrombosis is the underlying condition that causes the world’s top three cardiovascular killers: heart attack, stroke and venous thromboembolism (VTE). VTE includes deep vein thrombosis, when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the leg. And it includes pulmonary embolism, when the clot breaks off and travels from the leg up to the lungs.

  • Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to reducing deaths and complications from blood clots. Surgery — especially knee or hip surgery and certain surgeries for cancer — puts people at more risk for VTE. Other risk factors include:
  • Overweight/Obesity – the higher your weight, the higher your risk;
  • Hospitalization – blood clots in the legs or lungs are the leading cause of preventable hospitals deaths;
  • Immobility – not moving for long periods of time, including bed rest and extended travel on long car or plane trips;
  • A family history of blood clots;
  • Use of estrogen-based medication such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy;
  • Pregnancy or recently giving birth.

VTE includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT), when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the leg. And it includes pulmonary embolism (PE), when the clot breaks off and travels from the leg up to the lungs. DVT and PE are serious, life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention. What are the warning signs?

DVT mainly affects the large veins in the lower leg and thigh, almost always on one side of the body. The clot can block blood flow and cause:

  • Changes in skin color (redness)
  • Leg pain or tenderness, especially in the calf
  • Leg swelling (edema)
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch

PE, or pulmonary embolism, can be fatal and occurs when the DVT breaks free from a vein wall and blocks some or all of the blood supply to the lungs, causing:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain (may be worse upon deep breath)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Light headedness or passing out